5 Ways To Increase Horsepower That Works (And 5 That Doesn’t)

If you search online, you can find so many ways to increase horsepower. But which ones actually work and which ones just kinda work? By kinda work, I mean it provides just 10 horsepower. You wouldn’t go for an upgrade for just 10 horsepower would you? It’s such a small amount that could be impacted by other factors like temperature in the atmosphere. 

Before we begin, let’s discuss how power is generated in a car. A car generates power by creating combustion in the combustion chamber – the bigger the combustion the more power is generated. Combustion requires fuel and oxygen to exist – bigger combustion means more fuel and oxygen. So far so good? 🙂

Injecting extra fuel into the combustion chamber is not a problem – getting more oxygen is the hard part. Majority of performance mods work by increasing the amount of oxygen (air) in the combustion chamber. The more air you can push into the combustion chamber, the more power you will get. 

With that said, Let me give you the list of performance mods that actually increase horsepower. Along with how they work and a rough estimate of how much horsepower you can gain from each way.

5 Ways That Actually Increase Horsepower

1. Turbocharger

Turbocharger is personally my favorite performance mod for extra horsepower. It’s so effective that a lot of car manufacturers include them straight out of the factory. Okay enough blabbering – turbocharger is an air compressor that sucks additional air from the surrounding, compress them and push it straight to the combustion chamber. This means much more air in the combustion chamber for powerful combustion. 

The beauty doesn’t end there – the air compressor in a turbocharger is self-powered by a turbine that spins from exhaust gases flowing through the exhaust system. This means, turbocharger gives you a boost of power without using up any fuel to power itself! Very efficient right? 🙂 

The amount of boost depends on the amount of exhaust gases flowing through the exhaust system. Which means, turbocharger works best at higher RPM when the engine is working hard and producing a lot of exhaust gases. It’s common for a turbocharger to provide additional 100 horsepower or more! You can find out more about turbocharger in my other article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 100+

Image of turbocharger
Image of turbocharger

2. Supercharger

Supercharger is the sibling to turbocharger. They work very similarly – a supercharger is also an air compressor that sucks air from the surrounding, compresses it and directs it to the combustion chamber. However, a supercharger is powered by your engine’s crankshaft – which means a supercharger uses fuel to power itself to give you that boost. Not as beautiful as the turbo sibling huh? Well, not really! A supercharger has its own benefits.

A turbocharger has turbo lag – this means it takes some time before you receive the power boost. This makes sense because turbocharger uses exhaust to power itself. If there’s no exhaust, then the turbo doesn’t work! Supercharger on the other hand, is powered by your engine’s crankshaft – which means as the engine runs, the supercharger also runs. The power boost from the supercharger is immediate. You can find out more about superpcharger in my other article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 100+

Image of supercharger
Image of supercharger

3. Nitrous

Nitrous is compressed Nitrous Oxide (N2O) – it’s made up of Nitrogen and Oxygen molecules. When the nitrous is injected into the combustion chamber, the Nitrogen and Oxygen molecules split up. Thus, immediately increasing the amount of oxygen in the combustion chamber. All that’s left is to inject more fuel and BOOM! More power baby.

The boost is huge – you can easily achieve 100+ horsepower in an instant depending on the shots of nitrous.. However, nitrous gets used up quickly – only a couple of minutes of use before the tank runs out. This makes nitrous suitable only for short distance drag races. I cover more about nitrous in this article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 100+

Image showing storage space required by nitrous tank
Image of nitrous

4. Performance Exhaust System + Air Intake

This method requires you to install a performance exhaust system and a cold air intake. Individually, they will not yield you much horsepower (I cover them below). But combined + dyno tuned, I see it providing an additional 30-50 horsepower. Of course the number depends on the size of your engine – the bigger the engine, the more horsepower you can gain from these performance mods. 

The performance exhaust system must be a header-back. A simple axle-back or cat-back will not be good enough to yield any horsepower gains. This is because a header-back replaces the majority of the exhaust piping into a wider one and it could also include a custom muffler and CAT that are less restrictive. Thus, allowing more exhaust gases to quickly flow out from the combustion chamber – providing more room for incoming oxygen. 

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 50 

5. Dyno Tuning

If you don’t already know – dyno tuning means editing your car’s computer to increase performance. Dyno tuning works only if you have new performance mods installed. Tuning a stock car will not yield you any horsepower. Sure, you could make the car seem more aggressive by removing the rev limiter or make the car run richer.  But at the end of the day, the horsepower will not improve and that’s what we are focused on right? 🙂

For dyno tuning to provide additional horsepower, you must pair it with other performance mods like a performance exhaust system, cold air intake or turbos. Dyno tuning will give you the extra horsepower from your performance mods. If you want to know more about dyno tuning, here’s an article I wrote about dyno tuning.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 30+

Image of Dyno tuning
Image of car while dynotuning

5 Ways That Doesn’t Really Work

1. Performance Air Filter

A performance air filter is less restrictive – meaning it allows more air to enter for combustion. This works pretty well in theory. However, it will not bring you much horsepower in real life. You could probably see an increase in 5-10 horsepower (which is negligible in my opinion). Performance air filter works better when you pair it with a performance exhaust. Installing it for performance alone will disappoint you. If you want to know more details about performance air filters, I got you covered in this article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 5

The guys at Engineering Explained ran a test to find out how much horsepower do performance air filters provide. Here it is.

Image of Performance Air Filter
Image of performance air filter

2. Cold Air Intake

Cold air intake allows your car to suck cooler air – which is more dense than hot air. Thus, containing more oxygen. Cold air intake is also less restrictive and more open – allowing additional air to enter your car engine for combustion. But really – how much more extra air can you allow to enter? Not enough to give you a significant horsepower boost – at most 20. (If you are lucky!)

Don’t get me wrong though. Cold air intake is personally my favorite car mod. It’s cheap and makes your car sound sexy as hell. But if you equip a cold air intake just for performance, then you will be disappointed. I suggest you give cold air intake a look for its sound improvement. I cover more about the sounds from cold air intake in this article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 20

K&N Cold Air Intake
Image of cold air intake

3. Straight Piping Exhaust

The idea of straight piping is to remove any components that can restrict air flow in the exhaust system. This means removing the CAT, muffler and resonator. With these components removed, exhaust gases should be able to exit the car more quickly – providing extra room for oxygen to enter the combustion chamber. Straight piping has nothing to do with the pipe being straight. 

This is personally my least favorite modification. It makes your car extremely loud – even deafening at times. Plus, without the CAT, your exhaust gas becomes extremely toxic. All these for a better air flow in the exhaust system. Straight piping alone will provide 20 horsepower at most. Straight piping should only be done for track cars that also have cold air intake and performance exhaust systems. I cover straight piping in detail in this article.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 20

Image of straight pipe exhaust
Image of straight pipe exhaust

4. Performance Muffler

Performance muffler is less restrictive than regular mufflers – allowing exhaust gases to flow out quickly. This means there will be extra room for more oxygen in the combustion chamber. Performance mufflers are extremely loud and aggressive – could even be illegal in some areas. If you are looking for performance, I do not recommend performance mufflers at all. My estimated horsepower boost is about 10 at most. (I have never gone on a dyno to test performance mufflers! Just a guesstimate 🙂 )

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 10

Here’s the inside of a regular muffler vs performance muffler. Notice how hollow a performance muffler is. Exhaust gases will flow right out. 

Which muffler is your car right now?
Image of the internals of a muffler
Internals of a stock muffler
the internal of performance muffler
The internal of a performance muffler is hollow

5. Performance Chips

The idea of a performance chip is dyno tuning on-the-go. Plug in a device and your car’s computer is reflashed with new values. Based on the chip you purchase, it can do a variety of things. The most common changes are raising top speed, raising rev limit and lower air/fuel ratio. A performance chip is relatively cheap and quick – you don’t have to spend hours manually tuning values and testing for the changes.

I don’t think performance chips work well – especially if your car is stock. You might feel the car moves faster and becomes more aggressive. But it likely works only on the lower RPM. Unless you bring your car to a dyno, you can’t really tell if the performance chips work or not. Based on what I have seen and read online – the answer is no, performance chips do not increase horsepower. I give it a 10 estimated horsepower boost if you are lucky. Here’s an article I wrote about performance chips.

Estimated Horsepower Boost: 10

Image of performance chip
Image of performance chip
Ifandi S.

Ifandi S.

Passionate about everything mechanical. Ifandi has been involved with motorcycles and cars since the old days - in his family's auto parts shop. Want to keep in touch? Scream "STRAIGHT PIPEEEEE" at the top of your lungs and Ifandi will show up.

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